Difficult Emotions — A Tool for Awakening to the Present

Since Donald Trump’s January inauguration as 45th President of the United States, a groundswell of shock, disbelief, anger, fear and sadness has arisen around the world.

If you are someone who listens to the news, not a day passes without further expression of these negative emotions.  Our atmosphere is being cluttered with toxic emotion.  Unfortunately, a continual barrage of negativity can wear down hope and creativity resulting in pessimistic thinking and behaviour.  So, what are we to do in order to remain positive and healthy under this onslaught of negativity and difficult emotions?

Most importantly, we need to become aware of our own emotional reactions to any negativity assailing us.  If we find ourselves reacting negatively to what we encounter, we have internalized those negative emotions, and they are impacting our mental and physical well being.  Internalizing negative emotion means we not only made it part of our experience, but also stored it in our body.  All emotion is stored and, thus, can be felt in the body.

In the case of negative or unpleasant emotion, you might experience sweating, rapid breath, increased heart rate, tightness around the heart, furrowed brow, heaviness, pressure around the stomach or other organs, narrowing of the throat, etc.  The list is lengthy and often can be quite unique to each individual.

On the other hand, positive emotion may show up as expansion in the heart and rib cage, softness in the face and jaw, lengthening of the spine, overall ease, a smile on the lips, slowing and deepening of the breath, a quiet mind, etc.  Again, we may have very unique ways of holding our positive emotions in our physical body.

To give you an illustration of how internalized emotions appear in your body, take 15 minutes to practice the following technique borrowed from Pema Chodron.

Sit quietly in a chair, and close your eyes to increase your ability to visualize and concentrate.
Place your mind on your breath at the tips of your nostrils, which will support your ability to
stay present. Just follow each inhale and exhale of your current breath pattern without
attempting to adjust or regulate the breath in any way. When your mind wanders off, gently
come back to the breath. After five minutes of watching the breath, let your mind rest in the
sense of open awareness and spaciousness that becomes available.

Now, come up with a memory of a mildly unpleasant emotion — being criticized, impatience,
etc. Work with a light-weight emotion first — mild irritation, dissatisfied, disgruntled, mild
anxiety, mild frustration. Use the unpleasant or negative emotion as your support to train you
to be fully awake and present. As you stay focused on this emotion, experience it’s sensations
and characteristics. Stay with the emotion for as long as you are able noticing where in the
body it is located as well as any other associated impacts. If your mind wanders, you may
need to bring the unpleasant emotion back again and again until you have a good sense of
its location and experience. Once you have achieved this, release the emotion and return to
watching your breath at the tips of your nostrils. After a few minutes rest your awareness
in the spaciousness that becomes available.

Now, come up with a memory of a pleasant emotion — being praised, being chosen in friendship, being offered an apology, being hugged or loved. Use the emotion as your support to train you
to be fully awake and present. Experience the emotion’s sensations, characteristics and location
in your body. Once again, you may need to bring the pleasant emotion back again and again to experience its full impact. Notice what is occurring for you in the present moment. Release the emotion and rest your awareness either on the breath or the internal sense of spaciousness.

What did you notice as a result of practicing this meditation technique?  In my own experience, keeping my awareness on the physical sensation of my negative emotions eventually caused them to shift, and they dissipated like a puff of smoke.  In addition, meditating on negative emotions revealed personal truths such as mistaking arrogance for confidence.  Others confided their own uncovered truth — mistaking hollowness (emotional/spiritual hunger) for physical hunger, etc.  Was a truth or misperception revealed to you?

Another very important experience occurs when you locate your emotions in your body by using their sensations as your meditative focus.  For example, you discover physical hunger and hollowness (emotional hunger) are located in different places just as arrogance and confidence are.  Thus, this deep focusing of your awareness further refines your discrimination and self-healing skills.  Tapping into your own healing powers through focused meditation strengthens your capacity to manage difficult emotions in positive ways and fends off the daily bombardment of negativity to which we are currently exposed.

If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the
future.  If you are at peace you are living in the present.    
Lao Tzu

For more on refining your focus and living positively, click here.

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